Alfalfa is a perennial legume, grown in most regions of the U.S. for horses and other livestock,” says Krishona Martinson, PhD, associate professor and equine extension specialist in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Animal Science, in Falcon Heights.
It was one of the first domesticated forages, planted and harvested in what is now Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan several thousand years ago. Early farmers discovered its nutritional benefits, especially for hard-working horses, says Ray Smith, PhD, forage extension -specialist at the University of Kentucky (UK), in Lexington. “The main feed for horses of early armies in those regions was alfalfa,” he says.
“When alfalfa was first brought to the eastern part of the U.S. in the 1700s from Europe, it didn’t survive well—partly because of wetter soils and lower pH,” says Smith.